Send More Money

I find it hard to get behind efforts like this, because there is no discussion of what NASA should actually be doing with the money, and it’s assumed that there are no problems at NASA that money won’t fix. But absent major reforms and ways of doing business, sending more money to NASA is like sending more booze to a teenager behind the wheel.

[Update a couple minutes later]

From the “About” page:

We hope you’ll join us in showing your support for NASA and human spaceflight by sharing this website with your friends and family, and by contacting your elected representatives.

Note the implicit assumption that NASA is identically equal to “Human spaceflight.” How naive. And counterproductive. When I look at Constellation, I have to channel William Proxmire: “Not one penny for this nutty fantasy.”

[Update Sunday morning]

Jeff Foust has further thoughts on the petition:

The site…just rehashes many of the old arguments, the ones that have not proven compelling in the past. The site includes a letter you can sign to send to your representatives, but the call to action is weak: “I urge you to provide adequate investment in our nation’s space program.” What may be one person’s “adequate investment” may be another’s wholly inadequate—or simply unaffordable.


[Late Sunday afternoon update]

More thoughts from Clark Lindsey:

I know these guys mean well…but I can’t support giving more money to an agency that would waste it on absurdly expensive projects like Ares I/Ares V. If the cost of access to space cannot be reduced substantially from currently levels, it is pointless to continue with human spaceflight. These projects neither lower space access costs nor lay a technology development path towards lower costs.

Yes. As I’ve noted often, even if these programs were successful by their own metrics, they would be an utter failure in terms of opening up space to humanity, as all of NASA’s human spaceflight programs have been to date.

25 thoughts on “Send More Money”

  1. Agreed. I’ve worked at or on NASA projects on adnoff for 16 years adn am a long term space nut; but even I can’t justify nASA anymore.

  2. Rand,
    I helped contribute some of the content to the site and I know everyone in the group. The vast majority of them work on Shuttle, Station, and Constellation, so commercial space really isn’t on their radar. It’s on mine because my office is depending on it to get payloads to orbit, but mine is only one voice.

    There will be more content added to the site in the coming weeks. I already anticipate there being some very interesting discussions when it comes to what NASA ought to be doing. Keep in mind that this Young Professional group is being backed by the Citizens for Space Exploration, which is very much a pro-Constellation, pro-VSE organization.

    I may prove to be something of a heretic when I bring up alternatives like the Flexible Path and developing infrastructure before we pick destinations, but I already rocked the boat when I pointed out that what we’re doing is inherently political. So, I’m fine with that role if need be.

    My colleagues here truly believe in the value of human space exploration and have pursued that dream via the opportunities they had available. If you want to get them to think about things differently, you’re going to have to meet them halfway. You’re going to lose them if you’re overly cynical.

  3. Well, good luck with that, Justin. I’m not being cynical so much as pointing out that they don’t really understand how the world, or their beloved space agency works. Part of the problem is that they are young, and haven’t yet figured out the score.

    Keep in mind that this Young Professional group is being backed by the Citizens for Space Exploration, which is very much a pro-Constellation, pro-VSE organization.

    You (or they) should keep in mind that VSE != Constellation. There was a VSE before there was Constellation, and there will be one (and a much more viable one) after it.

  4. Serious questions Justin, do your colleagues meet you halfway on commercial? Are they even able given the constraints of their positions?

    When there is fundamental disagreement on means, sharing the same goals is just cheerleading. And cheerleaders don’t block or make touchdowns.

    I am sure your colleagues are sincere, but they may need to change planes to reach a useful destination. At this point, many of them are passengers on a plane with an uncertain pilot.

  5. Rand,

    I’m certainly aware that the VSE does not depend on Constellation. I was just pointing out one of the groups backing this effort.

    We’re not civil servants and this is not a partisan activity.

  6. John,

    Those that I have discussed the issue with seem to be open to the idea of getting NASA out of the LEO business to focus on exploration. I can’t speak for everyone, though.

    My point is simply that you can’t just assume fundamental disagreement exists. If you want them to understand and, at least, appreciate your point of view, you have to engage them.

  7. Justin, can you tell me what you mean by “meeting them halfway”? I agree with them that human spaceflight is important. I disagree with them that the best way of advancing human spaceflight is to simply provide NASA with more money, which, as far as I can see, is what is being advocated at the web page. So we have common ground. Are they willing to back off of their position? If not, then I can’t support them, because I consider that position counterproductive to our shared goals, even if they don’t realize it.

  8. Mainly, I was thinking about not calling their work a “nutty fantasy.” It’s dismissive and counterproductive to having a constructive conversation about what NASA should be doing.

    If you want them to consider your approach, why not post a comment at the “Contact Us” link? Explain your position and why you think they should consider it. I doubt many of them have even heard it before. Most of the comments that I have seen are telling them they’re on the right track and to press on.

  9. Well, OK, but honestly, I think that the notion that Constellation is going to open up space for humanity, even if it ever actually flies, is a nutty fantasy. Sometimes the truth hurts.

  10. My very Southern mother always taught me, though, that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. 😉 More often than not, she’s right.

    When it comes to policy, even if you have the right idea, it doesn’t matter if you are unable to convince others that you do.

  11. Justin: even if others disagree, it is worthwhile to state a position if you believe it is right. Establishing an alternative gives those others a place to go to when they finally become disillusioned.

    For example, I’ve said for years that Proxmire got a bum rap for his positions on space. Space fans reacted predictably, but now here’s Rand invoking the demon’s name.

  12. Justin, the cost of space has to be brought down for any real progress to be made, there is no real getting around this, we need to be able to get thousands of people up there at low cost. NASA’s efforts are moving in the opposite direction, and are consequently largely destructive. NASA would have to substantially reverse this trend to regain people’s confidence.

    For decades many people have expended great effort trying to reform NASA, but it has only gotten worse. It became apparent that their efforts were better spent elsewhere. Yet sporadic attempts continue – there is still a lot of respect there. Presumably the suggestions of the Augustine commission will be twisted, ignored and generally overwhelmed by cultural inertia.

    Getting NASA out of the launch business would help greatly, though there is an argument that high cost low value space stations and exploration will also serve to poison those wells.

    NASA could help greatly with commercial funding incentives and pure research and develop, it could also help by being an incubator for start ups. An exploration focus might better enable these things in the short term. Long term, reform is still required, but likely that could then come from without – driven by interaction with a growing commercial sector.

    Ideally your colleagues should be thinking about leaving NASA and starting up their own space companies, thinking about what they could do and how they could get costs down if driven by getting the job done and not NASA politics. They could accomplish so much more in the commercial sector where their talent need not be wasted. In particular, low cost space station and space exploration infrastructure is getting far less attention than it warrants at the moment – many opportunities there.

    Within its existing budget, how could NASA get thousands of people working and exploring in space in the next decade or two?

  13. I have long thought that NASA should receive a budget increase, but given the debacle that has been Ares I and to a lesser extent Orion it seems to me that increasing NASA’s budget is simply encouraging a fiscally undisciplined agency to be more so. Companies like SpaceX have proven that we should expect more results from our “space dollars” than NASA has been able to achieve.

  14. My colleagues here truly believe in the value of human space exploration and have pursued that dream via the opportunities they had available. If you want to get them to think about things differently, you’re going to have to meet them halfway.

    Justin, what exactly does that mean?

    Your colleagues are calling for increased spending on a program that would *reduce* the number of humans NASA sends into space. That’s a curious position for people who “truly believe in the value of human space exploration.”

    Others would like to *increase* the number of humans who can explore space.

    What is “halfway” between reducing the number of humans who go into space and increasing it? Remaining exactly where we are today? Why is that a goal anyone should support?

    this is not a partisan activity.

    I do not think that word means what you think it means.

    Partisan means taking sides on an issue — what you and your colleagues are doing. It isn’t non-partisan just because it’s a political position you agree with.

  15. Also annoying is the argument that NASA is treated unfairly because it only gets “only a fraction of a percent of the total federal budget.”

    There is no law that says every agency is entitled to at least 1% of the Federal budget. There are hundreds of Federal agencies, Justin — you don’t think they can *all* get 1% of the Federal budget, do you?

    No one goes around saying the FBI or the USGS should get more money because they’re less than 1% of the Federal budget. They talk about what the agency should be doing and how much money is needed to do that — why should NASA be any different?

  16. My colleagues here truly believe in the value of human space exploration and have pursued that dream via the opportunities they had available.

    Do they belief in it to the degree they would be willing to work on it for free? For the minimum wage? Would they be willing to pay others to do it? If not then they are asking other people to pay them to work on their hobby. Hey, I care enough about space to want to be paid to write blog posts about it. I can go on about it for hours and hours as some people here can attest.

  17. Justin: your colleagues truly believe in preserving the flow of federal funds into their salaries and benefit plans. Given that they’ve committed themselves to dead end careers as public parasites, this is understandable, if deplorable.

    Of course they will not admit this (perhaps not even to themselves), but instead purport to believe in what they are doing.

  18. perhaps not even to themselves

    This reminds me of an animated discussion I had with a friend of a friend at a party. We had gone to the same secondary school, but didn’t know each other since it was a large school. He was the son of immigrants and had been such a difficult student that only one of the teachers in the whole school was still willing to accept him in class. His father sent him back to Morocco and after a few years he returned older and wiser.

    He is now a lawyer and works largely pro bono, which of means that the government pays his fees. He was complaining that many of the unemployed people he knew in the immigrant community were actually unwilling to work, preferring to live on welfare, which is unlimited in duration where I live. Or sometimes they have illegal part-time jobs or grow and sell marijuana.

    I was trying to sell him on the idea of a Friedmanian below subsistence level basic income. I know, that’s not really libertarian, but I’m a bleeding heart libertarian and an elitist. He was strongly opposed to that , though generously willing to accept my good intentions, claiming it would lead to exploitation.

    His solution is that the government should pay him to find work for these people. Wouldn’t that be nice? A position of authority and guaranteed income for him. People who are trying to inflict help are trying to help themselves. But I truly believe he had convinced himself he was doing it for idealistic reasons.

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